How My Restaurant Internship Experience Changed My Career Plan

By Aryan Ashar

The CIA’s internship semester is, in my opinion, the most valuable semester at the college, providing real-world experience that has great impact on the overall education. For me, internship made me truly understand the sacrifices people make to put out an amazing plate of food—sacrifices that often go unnoticed.

We all come here saying to ourselves that we know exactly what we want to do after culinary school. I had personally worked at two restaurants previously and those experiences were my testers that gave me the assurance that this kitchen life is what I wanted for myself. But perspectives change, as I was about to find out.

Hello, Real World

While at college, we are told that internship will be challenging but we have the tools to prepare us for it. While this is true, the life I am living on internship is very different from the one I experienced at school—five days a week in a grueling environment where my day theoretically consists of a sprint followed by another sprint and then another. I am talking about all of it—prep, service, and then breakdown. You cannot slow down at any of them; you keep yourself going, you force yourself to taste everything, you go out and eat, and you see the life the chef there is living. You need to understand that to get to where he is, it’s one test after another, mentally pushing yourself to be better, faster, efficient, accurate.

At my internship site, Chef does his best to motivate us and is very good at it. His lineup is like being an extra in Braveheart every day! It should evoke a tremendous response from his cooks, but I am in a headspace right now where I feel I am more adequate with the keyboard. But he is an amazing Chef and mentor; he knows exactly where my downfalls are and can see how scared I am. The other day, he repeated “It’s okay” multiple times to me, and in my head I was saying “Chef, can we not have a Good Will Hunting moment cause I will break down crying if you say it one more time.” But I will always be grateful to him, and for now I just work hard to get better and complete my internship.

Finding Clarity

Depending on the restaurant you work at, it’s entirely possible to fall out of love with cooking. Today I am doing just that—but I’m eating good! It’s daunting, hard work and you might think you are cut out for it, but it simply might not be for you. I entered the industry for many reasons, one of them being that as an introvert I preferred being the person behind the scenes—the one doing the magic in the back, in my comfort zone. Lately I haven’t felt like this is my comfort zone, however, and I’m having self-doubt about and questioning my place in the industry.

After sitting with my thoughts for a while, I decided to go back to my origin story, ask myself why I came here and how I got here. The answer is pretty simple—I love eating food and spreading that love to others through food. I came to the conclusion that I don’t have to be in the kitchen to do this. There are a number of ways I can achieve my goals. Front of the house, food styling, catering, and food writing are all opportunities and careers that my time at the CIA can guide me towards.

So today I realized that this restaurant internship experience, while very challenging, has in fact given me the most clarity I have had in a while. I discovered that fine dining might not be for me even though it had initially been my dream. I can now explore other options as I continue my CIA education, and have a renewed hope that I’ll find my way in the industry. And as Andy Dufresne said to Red in The Shawshank Redemption, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

Aryan Ashar is a student in the CIA’s associate in culinary arts degree program. He’s originally from Mumbai, India.